Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Carpe Diem

This is a reprint of an article that I penned for the Journal of the Colorado Dental Association, Summer 2012 (Vol. 91, No. 3). I currently serve as Vice President.

Carpe Diem…

“If you live each day as if it is your last, one day you most certainly will be right.”  Steve Jobs, in his commencement speech to the 2005 graduating class at Stanford University. (Quote attributed to H.H. “Breaker” Morant)

Quite the statement, I must say.  Especially since cancer recently took him away from our world and into the realm of the unknown.  

Now, after reading Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson, it was very clear to me Steve Jobs was a visionary.  He was not, however, a saint.  In fact, the book showed an accurate and honest depiction of a man that knew what he wanted and would do almost anything to get his way.  Often, he was selfish, self-centered, mean, inconsiderate, and eccentric. Hardly the traits of a saint…

But he was a visionary.  One thing that is certain, he stayed true to his vision and his vision changed the world.  The computer industry (Apple), the music industry (iPods, iTunes), movie animation (Pixar), the retail experience (Apple store), and the smart phone (iPhone) all have been re-invented through his innovation and subsequently changed our lives.

In his commencement speech he continued, “It (quote) made an impression on me. And since then, for the past thirty-three years, I’ve looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’  If the answer is no for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

I know of many dentists that are not happy in their current situations.  In my life, there have been times that I, too, have been unhappy with my situation.  Like my colleagues, I felt trapped, the walls caving in on me.  One day, something inside me gave me the courage to make changes.   I made a call for help.  

That call was instrumental in me turning my life around in ways beyond what I could have ever imagined.  There have been many mentors in my life that I have called upon. I am grateful for their guidance. I would not be the man I am today without them. The key point is I called and asked for help. Help did not find me, I sought it out.

Dentistry is stressful.  A mentor, Jerry Gropper, DDS, once said of our profession, “Dentists must have the eye of a sculptor, the hands of a surgeon, the insight of a therapist, the knowledge of a scientist, and the financial acumen of a businessman.” It is no wonder so many of us have struggles. This is a tall order indeed.

How then can we get out of our proverbial “ruts”?

Thoreau said, “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.”  Uh-oh....He is saying that it is going to take some work.

First we must seek out who we are and what makes us truly happy.  It could be our family life, our practice model, our friends that we surround ourselves with.  It could be small changes or big changes.  One thing that is certain - Nothing changes if nothing changes.

Stephen Covey’s book, The7 Habits of Highly Successful People, describes this necessary change eloquently in the first habit, “Be Proactive”.  He talks of courage being the most important attribute.  Courage is not the absence of fear.  It is recognizing the fear that is within you and with a leap of faith - taking action. In this case, being proactive means to make the decision to make positive changes in your life.

Next, he encourages us to “Begin With the End in Mind” (Habit 2).  In this habit we are to create a vision of a better future. Covey writes,  “To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination.  It means to know where you are going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction”.  

Our happiness is determined by how well we live within our core values and to what extent we discipline ourselves to our vision.

Everyone has a bright future, if we choose to have one.  

The last book I will reference is from John Ortberg When the Game is Over, It all Goes back into the Box.  He gives the analogy of life as a calendar.  Each square in the calendar is a frame for one episode of our lives.  Nobody knows how many squares one gets, but each of us must choose how we fill them.

When we think of our day, is it filled with meaningful events with our families, patients, colleagues, etc.? Or, are we stuck in our rut, allowing the world and its pressures to create unhappiness in our lives. 

You get to choose…Carpe Diem.